The Bombay high court on Monday said there was something fishy going on in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation when it came to demolition of alleged illegal constructions, comments which came while hearing a writ petition filed by actor Kangana Ranaut.
A bench of Justices SJ Kathawalla and RI Chagla said in Ranaut's case, the civic body did not follow its own practice of attaching photos of alleged illegal constructions with its stop-work notices and waiting for some days before carrying out demolitions.
The HC made the remarks while hearing the writ petition filed by Ranaut challenging the demolition of a part of her bungalow in Pali Hill in suburban Bandra by the BMC on September 9.
The judges were questioning the BMC's H Ward officer, Bhagyawant Late, a respondent in the writ petition under whose jurisdiction Ranaut's property falls.
During the questioning, the bench noted that in cases of similar illegalities in buildings close to Ranauts, the BMC had waited for several days to carry out the demolition.
Besides, in most other cases, it had attached photos of the alleged illegal constructions with its stop-work notices served to building owners, and in such cases, it did not often take the police along for demolition, it said.
However, when it came to Ranaut's case, the BMC did not have any photos with digital date and time stamps of the alleged illegalities, and the demolition had been carried out in the presence of a huge police force just 24 hours after the stop-work notice was served to the actor, the bench noted.
The judges noted that in its reply, the BMC had claimed to have demolished a similar case of illegality on September 8.
But when the bench asked Late for photos or records of the demolition, the latter said no such photos or documents existed.
The ward officer also said the BMC team had not taken the police along for the September 8 demolition.
This irked the bench.
"Mr Sakare, (BMCs standing counsel) here there is something absolutely fishy! There are no photos for the 8th. How come in the system, this demolition is not shown on 8 (September)? It is only when we asked for the file it is prepared. Is there any answer?" it said.
The bench also asked why the BMC had taken a huge police force along on September 9 to demolish Ranauts bungalow.
To this Late said that Ranauts case was a "critical" one.
What is the definition of critical cases? In cases of celebrities it becomes a critical case? the bench asked.
Ranaut's counsel Dr Birendra Saraf raised questions over the BMC's action at the actor's bungalow.
Saraf argued that the manner in which the entire BMC team swooped in on September 7 in issuing the stop-work notice, and subsequently rejecting Ranaut's reply to it and carrying out the demolition, the discrepancy in documents, among others, showed the action was vitiated by malice.
Saraf pointed out that the demolition was followed by a news item (on September 10) in 'Saamana', where Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut is executive editor, that carried a headline showing as it were some rejoicing news.
Saraf urged the court to ensure that the damage to Ranaut's property was assessed by a qualified person and then to decide on a fair compensation amount for the same.
In her plea, Ranaut hassought Rs 2 crore as damages from the BMC and its officials.
In the course of the day-long hearing, Saraf also played a clip of a news interview where Raut had said that "Ranaut should be taught a lesson".
The Sena MP is also a respondent in the writ petition.
Raut's counsel Pradeep Thorat, though, argued that in the entire interview, the Sena leader had not referred to Ranaut by name.
"If it is your stand that, you (in the audio) have not called the petitioner a haramkhor, we will record it. Should we record your statement?" the court said, referring to an alleged comment Raut made in the interview.
"Don't run around the bushes... Have guts to say (before the court) what you have tweeted or told a news channel," the court said to both Raut and Ranaut's counsels.
The BMC, meanwhile, denied all allegations of malice made by Ranaut.
Senior counsel Aspi Chinoy, who appeared for the BMC, urged the HC to dismiss the plea, or to hear Ranaut through a suit, and not a writ petition, saying that in a suit Ranaut would have to stand in the box (witness box), and clarify all facts.
Let this be dealt with in a suit. Let her get into a box and let her establish these facts. Alternatively, this is a petition that deserves to be dismissed.
"It lacks absolute candour. This petition is being portrayed as an individual being harassed because of her public utterances against a government and party in power," Chinoy said.
The reality is slightly different. This is a case where the petitioner has unlawfully carried out substantial illegal alterations, he said.
Referring to the courts previous remark on the swiftness shown by the BMC in Ranaut's case, Chinoy said, "I agree there is a quicker response in this case. But that is not an answer (Ranauts' plea). You cannot carry out illegal construction."
The court will hear Raut's submissions on Tuesday.